Election '97: Mood on the streets is of disillusionment

John Major is pinning his hopes of winning the election on those still undecided. Yesterday Independent reporters visited six Tory marginals and found voters coming off the fence and switching their allegiance to Tony Blair: Bedford
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The situation is simple. Bedford is 61st on the list of 100 critical seats Labour must win to get a majority in the Commons and form a new government. And circumstances could hardly be better to achieve that goal.

The boundary changes have turned Bedford from a Tory bedrock with a majority of over 16,000 to a marginal with a majority of 5,000. Crucially, the remaining Tory vote is hardly solid. There appears to be a mood of disillusionment and drift. Even if the discontented do not all go to Labour, a significant number appear intent on deserting their party.

As Labour's Patrick Wall and Bob Blackman for the Conservatives fight that last yard towards the line, this is the mood on the streets.

Some Conservatives are leaving the fold, but more for the Liberal Democrats than Labour. Some are even thinking of voting for the Referendum Party. At the same time, there's a significant number of people who have not made up their minds, as well as a large pool of apathy.

Cheryl Wharton-Logue, of Winchester Road, Bedford, who works in promotions, will switch her vote to the Liberal Democrats from the Conservatives. She said: "I am angry at the way John Major allowed the health service to be run down. I have got three children and I am extremely worried about the state of education."

Her mother, Beryl Rogers, a retired administrative assistant, has voted Liberal Democrat in the past and will do so again. She stated: "It makes me angry when people say a vote for the Lib Dems will be a vote wasted. They are the only ones who are honest about their policies."

Peter Willis, a retired dental surgeon, will switch his vote from Liberal Democrats to Labour this time around. He used to vote Conservative but stopped when "they no longer cared about poor people. I will be voting Labour."

Geoffrey Wheeler, a 39-year-old account executive is a Liberal Democrat convert. He said he was disgusted by the aura of sleaze surrounding the Tories. He added: "I had voted Conservative in the past, including the last election, but I cannot do so for the time being. I'm sick and tired of all the sexual and financial scandals.

Richard Nelson, 37, a computer systems manager toyed with the idea of voting Labour but returned to the Conservatives after Tony Blair left him underwhelmed. He said: "At the start of the campaign I was thinking of voting Labour. But the longer it went on the less convinced I became. I'll be voting Conservative."

Traditional Labour voters appear to be staying with their party and are also fairly confident that they will wrest Bedford, and with it the country, from the Tories.

John Dickens, 43, Head of Politics at the University of Luton, of Castle Road, Bedford, said: "I voted Labour in the past and I shall do so again. With the boundary changes I think we've got a very good chance of winning this seat."